Justification by Faith – Part Two

By: Roger Smalling, D. Min

Excerpt from his book Unlocking grace

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Is faith the basis of our justification?

That question is a bit tricky because technically, the answer is no. Faith is not the basis of our justification. The perfect righteousness of Christ is the basis. Faith is simply the necessary means by which that righteousness is received.

 To illustrate, let’s consider the process of laying the foundation for a building. The foundation framework represents us. The cement we pour represents the perfect righteousness of Christ. The metal conduit down which the cement is poured represents the faith through which the righteousness comes.

 Before the cement arrives, the framework is empty. No foundation exists. The same with us. Without Christ, we are empty of all righteousness. We have nothing to contribute and everything to receive. God himself installs the conduit which is faith. Through this conduit, God pours the cement, the perfect righteousness of Christ and creates the legal foundation on which we construct our lives.

 Sanctification is like the process of building the house once the foundation has been laid.  This continues throughout life. The success of the process varies between believers. Some trust Christ more than others in building their house.

 Justification is not a process nor can it ever be repeated. It is a divine act accomplished once for all at the moment of the believer’s conversion to Christ. The perfect righteousness of Christ can never change.

 Sanctification on the other hand, means “be made righteous” or “be righteous” or “set apart for holy use.” [i] It involves the daily outworking of righteousness in our lives.

 As we mull this over, it becomes clearer why some believers feel insecure about their acceptance with God. They confuse the difference between sanctification and justification. They imagine their acceptance with God depends on their degree of sanctification. The result is emotional and spiritual instability because sanctification is a process that can vary. They know they can lose their sanctification to one degree or another and assume they will lose their acceptance along with it.

 Basing our acceptance with God on our degree of sanctification is a formula for trouble. We move immediately into performance-based righteousness, rather than faith-based righteousness. Since our performance is rarely perfect, we open wide the door to doubts, insecurities and a lack of boldness before God and man.

 Legalism finds fertile ground in those who base their acceptance with God on their degree of sanctification. To assure themselves that God still approves of them, they must invent rules and regulations by which to measure their performance; dress codes, avoiding certain entertainments or other restrictions. It is interesting to notice the rules they invent are always less stringent than the demands of God’s moral laws. After all, faith is an abstract concept, difficult to use as an objective measurement of performance. Spiritual failure and emotional instability is virtually guaranteed from this legalistic syndrome.

 A subtle trap develops out of this. The so-called faith that such believers think they have, is really faith in their ability to be obedient. This is faith in self, not faith in Christ.

 Consistent with the teachings of Paul, Dr. Charles Hodges notes the substitution of Christ with these words,     

“Hence Adam is the type of Christ. As the one is the head and representative of his race, so the other is the head and representative of his people. As the sin of the one is the ground of the condemnation of his posterity, so the righteousness of the other is the ground of the justification of all those who are in him.” [ii]

 Since justification is an absolute, the great apostle Paul is no more justified than a new believer in Christ. More sanctified, yes. Not more justified.

[i]             The “process” aspect of sanctification occurs in such texts as Hebrews10:14, For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. Notice the interesting parallel between the accomplished fact of redemption, has perfected forever, versus the continuous present tense application via sanctification as a process, being sanctified.

[ii]          Hodges, Charles: Systematic Theology, Vol.2, pp.203

Questions or comments for Dr. Smalling